Magazine article National Defense

GPS Vulnerable, but There Is a Solution

Magazine article National Defense

GPS Vulnerable, but There Is a Solution

Article excerpt

Ever since the first Global Positioning System satellite was launched in 1978, the technology has become a game-changing force that America - and much of the world - relies upon. Much of our nation's critical infrastructure, including major communications networks, banking systems, financial markets and power grids, all depend on GPS to function properly.

By some estimates, it is responsible for over $3 trillion a year in savings and increased national productivity in the United States alone.

Despite the incredible capabilities GPS provides for users around the world, it also represents a critical vulnerability. GPS signals are fairly weak, and its civilian signals can easily be disrupted by various forms of natural or manmade interference. Our deep reliance on GPS, combined with its vulnerability, has led officials at the Department of Homeland Security to call the technology "a single point of failure for critical infrastructure." It's the reason Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said he wants to "unplug the military from GPS," and why so much research has gone into non-satellite-based navigation and timing systems.

There is broad consensus that we need to establish a system to complement and back up GPS. President George W. Bush mandated acquisition of a backup system in 2004, and President Barack Obama reaffirmed that order when he took office in 2009. Specifically, the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT EXCOM), chaired by the Departments of Defense and Transportation, has identified a system known as enhanced Loran, or eLoran, as a viable nationwide complement and backup for GPS within the continental United States. eLoran, which uses the legacy Loran-C infrastructure, provides positioning, navigation and timing capabilities that are comparable to GPS, but with a considerably more powerful signal than the system.

This dramatically enhances its resilience in the face of jamming or other attempts at disruption. It would only take four towers and about $40 million to stand up the initial complementary timing capability, with room for expansion to provide additional positioning and navigation capabilities.

In spite of its relatively low cost and technical maturity, America's eLoran system has yet to be built, and we have fallen behind much of the world in this critical security infrastructure. While Russia, China, Iran, South Korea, the United Kingdom and others are maintaining and upgrading their own terrestrial GPS backup systems, branches of the U.S. federal government continue to point fingers when it comes to taking responsibility for eLoran. The relevant federal departments have all agreed that the system is needed, but none have stepped forward to make it a reality.

That is why the House recently passed, and the Senate is considering, legislation that includes a bill I coauthored to designate the Coast Guard as the lead agency for this effort and set deadlines for the system's implementation. The Coast Guard has experience with such systems and owns the infrastructure upon which eLoran will be built. It is also uniquely suited for this responsibility because it has strong authorities and relationships as a military service, within the civil sector and as a member of the intelligence community. …

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